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Thousands who paid fees to Rutherford County probation company receive settlement checks this week

Posted at 3:03 PM, Jan 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-08 19:16:50-05

RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. — Thousands of people who paid fees to a private probation company in Rutherford County will get checks in the mail this week.

It is the final chapter in a 2015 federal lawsuit that led to dramatic reforms in Rutherford County's criminal justice system.

The lawsuit claimed Providence Community Corrections (PCC) and Rutherford County extorted money from poor people convicted of misdemeanor crimes.

In 2017, Rutherford County agreed to end its use of private, for-profit probation companies, and PCC agreed to pay $14 million to settle the class action lawsuit.

More than 25,000 people were eligible to get reimbursed for payments they made to PCC, but about 9000 people signed up before the deadline.

The settlement checks to those 9000 people are arriving in the mail this week, and will range from around $100 to nearly $10,000 depending on how much money a person paid to PCC while on probation.

Kristofer Scott said he was 18 years old when he was arrested on a possession of marijuana charge and put on probation.

He was told to show up at the PCC office in Murfreesboro each month to make payments on his fine and his supervision fees.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Did they send you to jail because you couldn't pay your fees?"

Scott responded, "Right. They gave me 28 days to pay $5000 and I went to jail for an entire year."

But Scott, who is now 23 years old and says he has not been arrested for anything else, is getting $1800 from the settlement of the class action lawsuit against PCC.

A team of lawyers from the non-profit Civil Rights Corps filed the initial lawsuit in an attempt to end what it called, "unlawful for-profit probation services."

Civil Rights Corps has filed other lawsuits across the country to fight cases it calls "the criminalization of poverty."

"PCC was extorting money from some of the poorest most vulnerable residents of Rutherford County," said attorney Elizabeth Rossi with Civil Rights Corps.

She said this is a landmark settlement.

"It's the first time that a private probation company has been required to pay for the harm caused to tens of thousands of people," Rossi said.

After the settlement was announced in 2017 volunteers spent months trying to notify former PCC clients that they had a right to claim some of the settlement money.

Payments to former PCC clients were based on how much they paid PCC while on probation.

For Kristofer Scott the $1800 will not give him back the year he spent in jail for violating probation, but he said it will help him as he moves forward with his life.

In April of last year, attorneys filed a lawsuit against Giles County and the private probation companies it uses that alleged they "extort" money from the poor.

Attorney Kyle Mothershead joined Civil Rights Corps in the class action lawsuit.

Elizabeth Rossi with Civil Rights Corps said, "We also hope we can bring a similar sense of justice and closure to folks who have been victimized in Giles County."

That case is still in federal court.